Commit and WFHomie Team
Commit and WFHomie Teams

Are they happy? Measuring developers’ experience in remote teams – Part 1

August 24, 2021 in Technical Founders

The US resignation rate hit an all-time high of 4M in April 2021. In July, job openings peaked at 5.8M positions, the cherry on top of hiring challenges. Unfortunately for tech startups, the Great Resignation isn’t evenly distributed across all sectors. 

Back in 2019, the shortage of highly skilled tech workers caused “extreme concern” for 79% of CEOs — and it’s only gotten worse. It’s now essential for startup leaders to invest in their remote developers’ experience not only to retain them, but to benefit from a higher quality of work, psychological safety, and engagement. 

But you can’t fix what you don’t measure. In this two-part series, we break down the 7 factors that have the highest influence on remote developers’ experience and satisfaction, and highlight actionable steps team managers can take to measure and improve each of them.

Check part two out here.

  1. Recognition

There’s nothing worse than working hard on a project, only to push to production, and…crickets. Nothing happens. In remote companies especially, hard workers risk feeling invisible and losing their motivation. 

Recognition matters because it fulfills a fundamental human need for validation. To quote Oprah’s commencement speech at Harvard, “we all want to know one thing: ‘Was that OK? Did you hear me? Do you see me?’”

How to measure

Peer-to-peer and top-down recognition can easily be measured by tracking how many wins are celebrated asynchronously. For example, WFHomie’s Slack bot lets you send and track kudos messages, vouchers, and gifts within remote teams. Measuring use presents an opportunity to gain further insights into how your team celebrates wins — or not — and improve your track record. 

How to improve

Give kudos often and loudly, even for small wins, on general channels. For bigger accomplishments, like completing a major platform re-architecture or celebrating a work anniversary, company swag deliveries and gifts (e.g. a duck for Rubber Duck Debugging) can be a wonderful surprise.

Fold wins into weekly reporting cadences. Commit’s functional leaders send out weekly slack updates that speak to metrics, priorities, and the qualitative things that were accomplished that week. Our team managers also go behind the #s and OKRs to call out the specific people behind those accomplishments.

  1. Craft-Commitment

When you hire brilliant people, you want them to feel like you’ve got their back. That involves showing you care about their professional growth, through training, skill-building, and professional resources. Moreover, helping your current developers thrive thanks to new skill sets means you won’t need to hire as much, even when more challenging projects arise — a win-win for everyone.

How to measure

Performance conversations often focus on the skills that developers need to learn, but they also present an opportunity to surface the skills they want to learn. As leaders get a picture of the skills that specific engineers want to develop (ie. data engineering, picking up a new language, taking on more leadership themselves), keep them top of mind during sprint planning and work allocation. Then, carve out time during performance reviews to discuss the skills that people are working to learn.

Evaluate if professional development budgets are being spent, and ask your developers if the time they set aside for learning is getting steamrolled by tactical work.

How to improve

Train your team leaders (including yourself!) to adopt a coach mentality. It’s not enough to hire engineers with a growth mindset and a desire to learn, and hope their spirit is infectious. Make learning an explicit company value, and schedule learning time during company hours to create space for people to hone their craft. Commit’s bi-weekly All-Hands includes an engineer talking about a specific technical challenge they’ve resolved over the past couple of months. Rewind structures their sprints so 75% of the time is on improving the product, and the remaining 25% is on personal growth & addressing technical debt.

Lots of companies offer professional development budgets, with somewhat murky guidelines on how to use them. In reality, people generally have the best intentions with learning, but more urgent work often takes priority. Set up accountability groups (Commit calls them “study groups”) where people can keep each other on track, and normalize taking time out of the workday for personal growth.

  1. Trust

Trust builds psychological safety, meaning that your developers feel secure and confident taking risks within your team. That’s what People Operations leaders at Google discovered when they analyzed over 250 attributes of 180+ Google teams. Their subsequent re: Work report noted that psychological safety was the single greatest predictor of success in technical teams, making it crucial for startup leaders to build trust. 

How to measure

Ironically, it takes trust to measure how trusting your team members feel — unless you do it anonymously. Ariglad’s combination of pulse surveys, reports, and anonymous messaging allows you to measure trust levels accurately, without fearing that your results will be skewed. 

Ultimately, if trust is low, it can be really difficult to get that feedback from current employees. Exit interviews are a tool to get more candid feedback, especially if conducted by a senior functional leader known to be empathetic.

How to improve

Incorporate AMA sessions into your stand-ups. Answering questions transparently increases the likelihood that your team will ask the truly important questions to them. Front recommends using a tool like Slido to collect and upvote questions. 

Make time for regular team-building, from quick icebreaker questions to epic online events. WFHomie lets remote teams pick from 150+ virtual activities to socialize and build trust outside of formal meetings. According to developers in the team, our online escape rooms, VR Games, and bubble tea workshops are engineering favorites. 

You can also revamp your 1-on-1s specifically to build trust. Too many team managers treat these meetings like status updates when they could be so much more. Use Hypercontext’s one-on-one meeting templates to build trust by asking the right questions in the right order every week.

  1. Relationship with managers

We’ve always known that bosses have a major impact on job performance — one episode of the Office says enough. But thanks to Gallup, we know now that your relationship with managers determines 70% of your engagement at work. That’s why measuring and improving how developers connect to their team leaders can mean all the difference.  

How to measure

Skip-level meetings and anonymous surveys are your best tools. Managers are unlikely to self-report on issues with their team, and it may be difficult for them to even recognize if their relationships have room to improve. Both MedMe Health and Spark Advisor’s CEOs have monthly 1:1s with every team member to check how supported they feel by their manager. 

How to improve

Over-invest in relationship building during an employee’s onboarding period. Commit has a dedicated blog post with tips, including setting aside 45 minutes for a 1:1 every day for a new employee’s first 45 days. And once they’re embedded in the team, schedule a 1:1 to recur at least once every two weeks. This consistency means you get to connect as people, not just coworkers, and that when issues arise, employees know they have an upcoming outlet to address them.

First-time managers might need a helping hand on how to build a rapport with their reports – look to formal training, equipping them with actionable handbooks, or using software tools like Bunch.

Check out WFHomie, which is a platform that helps spice up regular virtual meetings with fun activities!

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